Pastoral message of Archbishop JOHN of Charioupolis
The Archdiocese of Russian Orthodox Churches in Western Europe, Exarchate of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, like all the ecclesiastical entities of the West, is following with concern the development of strained relations between the Orthodox Churches, but is also living them in its heart in a very particular way.
Indeed, being rooted in the spiritual and cultural heritage of the Russian emigration, the parishes and communities of the Archdiocese face many questions from the faithful, regarding the tensions that have emerged recently between the Patriarchate of Moscow and the Ecumenical Patriarchate on which we depend. The first of the questions with which our priests and our laity are confronted, that of Eucharistic Communion, is certainly the most serious.
The Moscow Patriarchate took the unilateral decision to break off Eucharistic Communion with the Ecumenical Patriarchate, imposing this decision on all the faithful, clergy or laity. For the Archdiocese, accustomed to concelebrating with the Moscow Patriarchate, this breaking of Communion causes great suffering. In fact, at almost no point in history, has the Archdiocese experienced a complete disruption of Communion with the Moscow Patriarchate, even in the darkest days of the 20th century, because the Archdiocese together with the whole of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople and the entire Moscow Patriarchate have always continued to profess the same Symbol of Faith (Creed). It is this profession of faith that is the criterion of their Orthodoxy, and to this day none of our Churches has changed its Symbol of Faith.
Because of its unilateral (and in our opinion disproportionate) character, the decision of the Holy Synod of Moscow is obviously not applicable in the churches of the Archdiocese. In the present situation, while our priests and deacons are not invited to concelebrate by the churches belonging to the Moscow Patriarchate, they are not forbidden to go there, in a personal capacity, to join discreetly in the prayer of the whole Church. On the other hand, for the laity, that is to say for the baptized Orthodox faithful who are not ordained deacons, priests or bishops, this prohibition, according to Orthodox ecclesiology, cannot be valid. In fact, a lay person from Western Europe, at the sacramental level, belongs to the unique Catholic Body of Christ, therefore to all jurisdictions simultaneously, whether it be that of Constantinople, of Moscow or any other, which constitute the Pleroma of the Church.
The baptized are not the personal property of their bishops or their spiritual fathers, they are members of the Body of Christ that celebrates in the place where they are at a given moment. For example, if a believer living in St Petersburg moves to the island of Crete, he ceases to be a member of the Church of Russia and becomes a full member of the Church of Crete (which depends on the Ecumenical Patriarchate); unlike a member of the clergy, a lay person does not have to ask his bishop for canonical release in order to move.
The fact that, in Western countries, several Orthodox episcopal jurisdictions coexist on the same territory has the corollary that, sacramentally, our faithful are, potentially, at the same time members of all the ecclesiastical bodies which profess the same Symbol of Faith. Administratively, of course, the faithful can assume specific responsibilities in one or another particular parish, but that does not preclude their belonging to the whole ecclesiastical body. The coexistence of multiple jurisdictions on the same territory, which is also often criticized, appears, in the present circumstances, to be a factor of sacramental unity.
We must not insult the Grace of God, present and active in all our Churches, even when they live in conflict, as long as they do not alter the Orthodoxy of the faith. On the contrary, we must let the Holy Spirit act, especially through this Eucharistic sharing to which we are invited. We assure the members of the clergy of the Moscow Patriarchate of our fraternal love and hope to be able to concelebrate with them again as soon as possible; with regard to the laity, we repeat to them our communion of faith and love and await, around the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, every lay Orthodox person who wishes to respond to this invitation of the Lord: “Take, eat; this is my Body, which is broken for you, for the remission of sins. Drink from this, all of you; this is my Blood of the New Covenant, which is shed for you and for many for the remission of sins.”
+ Archbishop JOHN of Charioupolis, Patriarchal Exarch of Orthodox Parishes of Russian Tradition in Western Europe
Paris, 23 November, 2018